In the week before the Champions League final, Liverpool played Benfica B in a friendly match at the Reds’ Spanish training camp in Marbella. Most observers assumed that the match was mostly for fitness purposes, as the final was taking place three weeks after the end of the Premier League season, and one can assume that there would be a certain lack of sharpness with so much time in between competitive fixtures.
However, it turns out the choice of Benfica B was done for tactical reasons as well. Have a look at this tweet, which features some quotes from Benfica B’s manager Renato Paiva, from the print version of Portuguese newspaper A Bola. They were translated to English by Portuguese journalist Tiago Estevao.
Liverpool played Benfica's B team in Marbella before the Champions League final. Turns out it was more than just for fitness reasons, it was specific tactical preparation.— Tiago Estêvão (@TiagoEstv) June 4, 2019
I translated some quotes from Renato Paiva (Benfica B manager) who talked to newspaper ABola about it. pic.twitter.com/6aBnohwUwn
More than that, Benfica B was selected because there were absolutely zero connections between that club and Tottenham, so there was a lower risk of leaking to the press and nothing but similarity of playing style.
"They couldn't pick an English team due to information leaks, they couldn't' peak a Spanish team because Poch spent a lot of years in Spain, they couldn't pick a French team because Lloris is France's goalkeeper. So they had to go with a Portuguese team."— Tiago Estêvão (@TiagoEstv) June 4, 2019
Like this quote, too.
I’m obviously not happy that Liverpool one the match, but I have to tip my hat to Jurgen Klopp for his preparation. Not only did he find a team to scrimmage with before the final, but he managed to find Tottenham Lite — a Portuguese Second Division team that was set up in a similar manner to the way Spurs play under Mauricio Pochettino and required just “slight tweaks” to imitate Tottenham’s style, if not its talent.
To the best of our knowledge, Tottenham itself did not take this approach, opting to train and play against its reserve side rather than another opponent in the lead-up to the match. I can’t fault them for it — it was probably more important to use the time to regain as much fitness as possible for players like Harry Kane than it was to find some gegenpressing lower-level side somewhere. So I’m not criticizing Spurs’ match preparation.
What we DO know is that Mauricio Pochettino had his team walk on hot coals and “snap arrows on each other’s throats” which surely was a great team bonding exercise but probably didn’t do much to illuminate how best to dribble past Virgil van Dijk.